Service deliveryDigital Customer ServiceThe need for technology in today’s contact centres

The need for technology in today’s contact centres

What technology must be at the heart of today’s omni-channel service centres if they are to become more efficient, effective and user-friendly?

What technology must be at the heart of today’s omni-channel service centres if they are to become more efficient, effective and user-friendly? GovTech Leaders finds out

A couple of years ago, Enfield Council sent ripples through the public sector when it announced the introduction of a robotic employee called Amelia. Described as a virtual agent capable of analysing natural language, the robot understands context, applies logic, learns, resolves problems and even senses emotions – making it easier for residents to locate information and complete standard applications as well as simplify some of the council’s internal processes.

While this was the first time the model had been used by the British public sector, in the two years that have passed since, the use of automated technology in the public sector has accelerated dramatically. Interest in robotics, bots and AI is rapidly accelerating and there’s a lot of noise being made about these technologies. This is particularly true of contact and service centres, where the technology is starting to become part and parcel of the digital landscape.

“AI driven virtual assistants have evolved in leaps and bounds over the last few years, and are set to become a powerful aid across all facets of the public sector,” says Shashi Nirale, SVP & GM EMEA at Servion.

“These advanced virtual assistants don’t have to worry about sifting through citizen or employee files, as they can draw up information instantly from a myriad of integrated systems, while humans would still be stuck jumping between multiple applications. The time and efficiency savings could be immense, not to mention the reduction in ‘human error’.”

Nirale says that while the private sector is leading in the adoption of the technology, the public sector should be following suit.

“We are already seeing many commercial organisations using next-generation AI-powered data analytics platforms in their contact and call centres to detect context of a customer issue, and either solve the problem or suggest a ‘next best action’. This technology is creating an increasingly predictive experience; using behavioural analytics to understand patterns and predict user intent. There is no reason that those in the public sector cannot follow suit and reap the benefits.

“For example, if a citizen calls a council contact centre looking for assistance there can be a number of reasons – it might be they are concerned over housing, or they may just want to pay a bill. Some might be distressed and need immediate assistance whereas others are just keen to answer their query in the minimal amount of time. Having a system that can detect emotions and identify callers who appear distressed can direct those calls to a more appropriate call handler helping to improve the citizen experience and reduce costs for public sector bodies.”


One of the key benefits of automation is the ability to deliver an always-on service – something citizens are now demanding more and more.

“Today’s millennial generation is used to an always on customer service, allowing them access to goods and services whenever they want, wherever they are,” explains Seb Reeve, Director of Strategic Solutions, EMEA at Nuance. “In order to meet the demands from customers, organisations have to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of chatbots and voice biometrics across all forms of enterprise and the public sector.

“Across phone, mobile applications, digital assistants or web chat, AI can transform the customer experience for the better and, ironically, bring humanity back to customer service. However, for this to be the case, it must be done in the right way. The best forms of AI are able to understand what the user says or types, asks clarifying questions and remembers the context of the conversation.”

Reeve continues: “In the public sector, voice biometrics are used successfully to improve the customer experience in contact centres and on mobile apps. This is demonstrated well, in particular, in the case of the Australian Tax Office (the ATO). In this instance, the use of voice biometrics technology means that taxpayers no longer need to answer security questions or enter lengthy usernames and passwords to provide their identities when engaging with the ATO, an obvious benefit in terms of both security and ease for the consumer. Instead, the customer’s voice is their password – which sees the customer accelerate the clearance process by simply saying their name in order to clear security.

“The advantages of simplicity have been reflected by customer feedback, with claims that repeat callers experience a 40-45 second reduction in the average time that they are on the phone with an agent. In this time-poor age, this experience of efficiency is incredibly beneficial.”

Breaking down traditional hours

Ryan Lester, Director of Customer Engagement Technologies at LogMeIn, says that this is particularly relevant for the public sector, which tends to follow traditional working hours.

“Today’s customers have very little patience for the limited hours that most public offices provide. They want to engage when they have the free time to do so, not cut their day short to make it down town during business hours. Unfortunately, budget constraints don’t allow these offices to expand hours. In addition, public offices often have various departments with interconnected roles and responsibilities, making it hard for customers to know where to go, often creating a disjointed and frustrating experience.

“Emerging technologies like AI are helping these offices create an environment that will provide seamless service when and how the customer is looking for it. Chatbots are helping these offices keep the lights on 24/7 to help customers answer questions and find resources before and after normal business hours. AI is also helping aggregate information across departments so customers can go to one place, navigate from there, and help ensure that the intent of the customers are being identified so they can be routed to the right resource.”

First time fix

Another reason for embracing technology in public sector contact centres ties in with the need for always-on communication – and that is the growing impatience of consumers. They demand fast responses and, ideally, first-time fixes, often across multiple channels.

“Today, consumers are more and more demanding towards their services and expect a high level of service 24/7 which is why, contact centres have to provide the best quality of service in order to solve issues as smoothly and quickly as possible,” argues Neven Stipcevic, Chief Technology Officer, Bulb Technologies.

“However, agents at the first line of support, who may lack technical skills to handle complex troubleshooting tasks and lack visibility on customer care process, still face many challenges during a call with a customer as they may ask themselves: ‘Which element has caused the problem? What is the root cause? How to solve it during the call? Where do I start?’

“Automated diagnostics and troubleshooting tools implemented through multiple channels (mobile apps, chatbots, web, IVR etc.) will enable agents to solve customers’ issues quickly and efficiently by gathering useful data and get 360-degree visibility on networks, service and customers to identify and troubleshoot problems, via a step by step guide.

“Automating these processes across all channels enable organisations to streamline complex and long running processes, increase the number of proactively solved issues and reduce costs and unnecessary field services.”

AI and humans hand-in-hand

While the case for AI in contact centres is a strong one, public sector employees may not feel so positive about the introduction of new technology. They’ll understandably be worried about the impact of AI on their jobs – fuelled by stats such as the one from a Deloitte survey in 2016 that suggested up to 861,000 public sector jobs – 16% of the overall workforce – could be automated by 2030.

However, as the use of automation and AI has developed, it looks less likely that resulting job losses be anywhere close to this scale. Instead, organisations need to communicate to their employees that jobs will be changing, not going.

“Whilst emerging technology like machine-learning applications, chatbots, and mobile messaging will play a much larger role in customer interactions in the next five years, we don’t believe human roles will be eliminated, says John Walls, EMEA Director of Customer Success, Zendesk. “However, we know that these interactions, and these jobs, will lean heavily on technology and look quite different than they do today.

“Although it varies dramatically by industry and business-type, currently 40 percent of all customer service interactions take place on the phone, the most of any channel. However, by 2022, this will shrink to just 12 percent. It’s predicted that one million phone-based customer support agents will see their job disrupted by technology by 2020. But, what this statistic doesn’t show is the opportunity that arises for these agents as other support channels grow more popular.

“The Deloitte study of automation in the UK showed that whilst 800,000 low-skilled jobs were eliminated, automation also created 3.5 million new jobs. Those jobs paid on average nearly $13,000 more per year than the ones that were lost. A new era of customer experience calls for a new era of jobs. Designers and curators of customer experience will emerge. This role will combine data analytics skills, brand knowledge and human empathy to create incredible digital experiences for their customer.”

Neil Hammerton, CEO and co-founder of cloud telephony platform Natterbox, agrees. “AI has the potential to revolutionise customer service,” he adds. “Despite news headlines scaremongering about technology making customer service roles redundant, it’s far more a case that it will actually enhance human interaction. Customers still value human and voice communication and the context and personalisation that it entails.

“Artificial Intelligence and machine learning will allow public sector organisations to gain more insights from calls. For instance, using the intelligence captured from phone conversations to link callers with the most appropriate and skilled agents will provide customers with a great experience and make them feel cared for, while simplifying processes for contact centres.

“Being able to analyse calls is vital: with this intelligence, organisations will be able to establish what a good call is, where employee training is needed, and how both employees and customers react during the call. AI systems will be able to monitor how someone speaks, with self-learning capabilities deciding the difference between good and bad calls for training purposes. This kind of insight will be hugely valuable to public sector organisations where customer relationships and loyalty are key to success.”

Better working in a flexible future?

The good news for current customer contact/service centre staff is that technology could lead to more flexible and remote working. The Future of Work study by Pegasystems found that an estimated 26 percent of front-line agents are replaced each year across the industry, an expensive and damaging rate of churn that impacts costs, morale and service levels.

However, Pega believes that the solution could be the gig economy, which could reinvent the call centre, replacing long shifts with flexible working patterns from the comfort of one’s own home. Almost nine out of ten of the survey respondents (88 percent) think that within 10 years large-scale permanent call centres will have been largely replaced with flexible freelancers working remotely. Indeed, more than half, 55 percent, expect this change to happen within the next five years.

This is expected to be good news for today’s demanding customers: 85 percent expect the use of flexible freelance customer service staff to make it easier to uphold a 24/7 service and 82 percent forecast faster response times as a result. And for workers, the flexibility, wedded to dynamic pricing for high demand or unpopular hours, could make service centre work a more rewarding and less stressful proposition.

Overall, various different technology solutions have the potential to reshape public sector service centres in many ways according to need. That can only be a good thing, as long as employees are onboard too.

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